This blog contains material I wrote and posted on multiply.com between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).
Monday, 26 November 2012
The Virgin and the Almah
If there is one thing I am convinced of, it is the idea that people who truly believe in their religion are either not very well informed about it, or, if well-informed, are deliberately shamming "belief" for other reasons. Most of the time there's no difficulty in divining the "other reasons" as well.
It's a matter of fact that most religions actually discourage thinking by their adherents and research into the truths or otherwise of the claims they make.
Christiantiy, in all its forms, makes the point that it is not an idolatrous religion and it's a monotheistic one. But, at the same time, the largest and most influential branches, the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, make a fetish of the "Virgin" Mary and the saints...to the point where they pary to the saints and to the "Virgin" Mary for intercession with "god".
In fact, the whole idea of the "blessedness" of Miriam (Mary) rests on the idea that she gave birth while still virgin. Catholics would also deny that she ever had sex, even afterwards, even though Biblical accounts would seem to allot Jesus four brothers (including "James the Just", first Bishop of Jerusalem) and at least two sisters.
Wherefore comes the idea that she was a virgin when she gave birth to Jesus? This idea that non-Christians often mock by claiming Jesus was illegitimate?
Answer: from the mistranslation of a single word. Let's see what Isaiah 7:14 has to say:
The Lord himself, therefore, Will give you a sign. It is this: the almah is with child and will soon give birth to a son Whom she will call Immanuel.
Now there we have the word: almah. It is a Hebrew word. It can mean one of three things: First, a young woman, recently married or unmarried. Second, handmaiden or female servant and, third, "concubine", which word automatically excludes virginity (this particular usage of almah - among other places - is found in Genesis 20:17, 21:12 and Exodus 23:12).
The Old Testament, where Isaiah's words appear, was translated into Greek and "almah" became "Parthenos", which means "girl", usually but not compulsorily unmarried (with no mention of virginity at all). It was only much later that Christian theology retroactively made "parthenos" mean "virgin". Mariolatry, the worship of Mary/Miriam, in fact, is an invention of the Middle Ages.
Take the "virginity" away from Mary, and what we have is a woman who happened to give birth to a prophet. No more special a woman than the mother of John the Baptist or any of a dozen other Jewish prophets, if at all any of them had any real existence that is.
I wonder, while I am on the topic, just why the Church was so all fired eager to make a demi-goddess of Mary? Are humans naturally polytheistic? Why do Muslims of the Sufi persuasion pray, not to god/khuda/allah, but to "pirs" (mystical Muslim "holy men")? Why did Buddhism, which was silent on the existence of god, convert Buddha himself into a deity and then - in the lamaist perversion of the religion in Tibet - acquire a plethora of "reincarnated" god-kings? Why do polytheistic religions survive?
Questions for another day.
Incidentally, if you read the Bible, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that Jesus himself disliked Mary. He was rude to her in public ("Woman, why turn to me? My time has not yet come", Mark 3:31-35; Matthew 12:46 and Luke 8:19); and when told that his mother and brothers were waiting for him, said "Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?" - surely a rejection. Also, nowhere does the Bible say he ever met her again after his attempt to preach in Nazareth ended in disaster. And is it credible that any mother, anywhere on earth, can attend her son's execution? Was Mary a psychopath? Did she have no maternal instincts? Or is it that the writers of the New Testament really did not know how women behave?
Of course, there is no actual evidence that Jesus even existed. So, I'll just close with an apposite comment I read on the net:
"Being the virgin mother of a nonexistent son would seem to be within the capacity of any woman!"